The Words of the Zahedi Family
Three years ago, before I attempted to come out of my troubled country, Iran, I had a dream in which I saw myself in a dark environment. Something or someone was beckoning me to come out, but there were two black closed gates in front of me, one after the other. I tried to open the first one. It had an old lock. I worked for a while on it, but the lock was rusty, so I could unlock it without too much difficulty. I passed through the first gate. Then I worked on the lock on the second gate, but I saw the lock was not holding the two parts of the gate together, so the gate was opened easily.
Later I saw the connection between that dream and what happened to me in reality. I believe that the spirit world disclosed to me through this dream that I would meet two major obstacles in trying to leave Iran.
The first obstacle I encountered in trying to leave Iran was in crossing the border. I was arrested, but was miraculously released, and I dodged border guards and walked all night and the next day on the hills and deserts without knowing the way.
I met the second obstacle in Pakistan while trying to reach the capital city, where I could meet the family members there and finally to come to America.
But why did I see everything in darkness in the dream? Was the situation in Iran really so dark and bad? If so, why did I come out of that darkness and leave behind the ones I loved so much? These questions have often come to my mind.
Sermon at a Friday service in Teheran.
Before the Ayatollah Khomeini came into power, legal freedom for our activities was not extensive, but at least there was not much social oppression and witnessing could be open. The history of martyrdom among the Shi'ites in connection with the development of mystic Sufism has produced a very rich spiritual heritage, which predisposes the Iranian people to seek out righteousness and new religious ideals; so the Unification Church prospered, even underground.
In 1978 criticism and complaint against the old regime grew and opposition became stronger. Khomeini is not communist, but much of the impetus for the revolution came from communist forces, particularly the Russian-connected Tudeh party. Finally in 1979 the old regime fell. Initially there was a kind of freedom in the country, but it was fleeting. Little by little Khomeini became more repressive, and banned many political, social, and religious activities. As often happens in such revolutions, the hopes and intentions of the people were betrayed, and the majority of Iranians now don't like Khomeini. The mullahs (priests) under him are fanatical and interpret Islam in a very narrow, external way. They want to restore order to society by stamping out all immorality, for example. Anyone who breaks any one of the stringent religious codes is suspected of being an enemy of the government. If an unrelated boy and girl are found in any public place together, if unrelated people are found living together, or if anyone tries to convert another person to a different religious faith, they are punished severely.
It was in this climate of repression and unrest that persecution came to us. Most of the charges against us which ended in arrest were initiated by communists, the Tudeh party in particular. We were accused by police and government authorities of being American spies connected to the CIA and of preaching religious heresies. At this time, communistic and anti-American feeling was strong; Khomeini was very fearful of terrorist opposition and wanted to eliminate any possible threats to his government. The communists, of course, made us look very dangerous when they "informed" authorities.
So members who were arrested were sometimes tortured. Also, if we had ever tried to register ourselves as an official, legally-recognized religious body, we would have been hopelessly opposed and oppressed by Jews, Muslims, Christians, and communists alike.
The last time I was arrested in Iran I was charged with heavy political crimes by one very negative official in government. Ironically, I was accused of being a communist! By a miracle, I was released. However, the political situation grew more serious and Khomeini's government decided to eliminate all potential opposition groups by executing their leaders. I knew that if I were involved in any further charges, my release would not easily be obtained. Therefore, it seemed wise to change my situation. At the same time I was asked to attend a 120-day workshop, and feeling that the Blessing might be coming up soon, I decided to attempt to leave the country.
Although my passport was valid, the government was issuing almost no exit visas. The only feasible way of leaving the country was to sneak out by land. Now my passport shows that I escaped and were I to return to Iran, I would be arrested immediately.
Some members in a northeastern city of Iran.
However, I could not stop worrying about all those who were still there, and I had a strong desire to be with them in their difficulties. So one year after my departure from Iran, I expressed my desire to Rev. Kwak to be closer to the Iranian members. He approved that my wife Katie and I return to the Middle East to work with Iranians and communicate with our movement in Iran. Therefore, we have been living in Turkey since January 1983.
Many Iranians come to Turkey because it is the only country fix which Iranians don't need a visa. Some come as travelers, while others escape. Hotels in Istanbul are full of Iranians, so we can witness to them. A few members can legally travel to and from Iran for education, and some relatives of the members are also free to travel to Turkey; so there is communication. Also, I often translate internal guidance speeches and send them to the members in Iran through letters.
Being in touch with Iranians in Turkey and having connection with the members in Iran has taught me much about the life of faith and suffering. In the three years of my life in exile my heart has changed a lot. My wife Katie has especially helped me to bring more love into my heart for Iran, Islam, and Islamic nations.
I couldn't imagine becoming a missionary to convert people of other faiths to my faith, nor did I think I could speak well enough about God, His love, and His ideals, because I thought my personality was not made for this kind of work. But if I can feel love in my heart towards people, if I can see the beauties of God's nature within people, if I can be happy and joyful with my situation, then I think I can become an instrument for expressing God's love and ideals to people.
For this I needed help -- someone with a gentle heart and genuine love. God gave me that helper when I was blessed with Katie. I can understand now that a man alone cannot be a complete person! He needs his other half to be complete. It takes time to adjust two completely different halves to each other; we meet our own struggles in striving to become one. We are not unhappy about the problems in our relationship; the problems are for us to overcome and thereby grow.
We receive a lot of mail from our members, letters which are the testimonies of solid faith in God and in True Parents, and the belief that God's Kingdom oat earth will be established soon. I am often amazed how members in Iran can maintain their faith and hold on to the ideal, and hope that God's will for their nation, the world, and for themselves can be fulfilled.
After so many years of being persecuted by friends and relatives and their families, and even being under government investigation, Iranian members are excited and happy that they have found the True Parents. One sister from a very religious family who wrote to me was beaten by her father and brother when they discovered she was connected to the Unification Church. She has had very little training but her faith is absolute. Also, members who were arrested and tortured did not deny their faith. Of course the guards continued to torture them because they wanted information about the movement and other members, but our brothers were clever enough to answer in such a way that they didn't contradict each other.
One member was arrested for introducing some other members to exit guides who betrayed them to Turkish police at the border. They had attempted to come for the Blessing. To avoid incrimination, the exit guides, when they themselves were discovered in illegal activity, accused the members of belonging to a group opposed to the government and said that they were on their way to a special meeting in Korea. From prison this brother wrote to me:
You have probably heard about my situation regarding our involvement with the Intelligence Department. We were arrested by one section of the secret police. They were looking for documents which are directly connected to our family [Unification movement]....
It started when we were in my shop working. The police came and took one brother and me, blindfolded, directly to the prison where another brother... (Who had already been arrested 10 days earlier) was being held. They asked us what we knew about the movement and if we had any pictures, booklets, or books about Rev. Moon. Before waiting for my answer, they said that they would go to my house and search. I was worried about my mother's reaction to seeing the police come to our house, so I suggested that if it was possible, they should take me.
We went to my house. My mother was very upset and scared, and I tried to comfort her.
They asked my mother about the movement. While she was crying very hard she explained about everything she knew. They showed her the warrant for my arrest and took me, again blindfolded, to the same place where the other brothers were. They found a Divine Principle book in Persian and other items connected with the movement and took them to find out about our movement's ideas.
Soon they called for me. They blindfolded me and took me to a place which may have been enclosed underground because the room had a loud echo. After I answered the first question they started to beat me up.... I knew that their questions and my answers were not the issue. They just wanted to torture me.... It continued until my body couldn't feel anything anymore.... Then they took me hack to the same prison.
The next day I was called for the real questioning. My questioner was a young, clean, and handsome man. I answered all the questions sincerely by writing them down. Then they took the other brother. After 20 minutes he came back. His hands were wounded and bloody. Then they called me again. I saw two persons; one of them had a cable and the other had a needle in his hand.
I felt again that I was to be beaten. I just told myself to be calm. The first thing they aimed at was my hands, then my back, neck, head, and legs. My whole body became swollen. My hand was swollen to three inches thick. After "entertaining" (the word the prisoners use for being beaten) all three of us, they threw us into a car (blindfolded) and took us to a bigger prison with about 100 prisoners.
My situation drew the attention of the other prisoners and they were curious to know what had happened to me. One of them came to me and started speaking to me. He was very polite and kind. He warned me of a spy among the prisoners and told me to be careful about what I said to other prisoners.
At dinnertime I couldn't eat because I was not able to move my hands. Because I wasn't eating, some prisoners thought that I was on a hunger strike. They warned me that if the guard knew this, the punishment would be 80 lashes with a cable. I showed them my hands. Then the kind man sat down next to me and fed me. He was very kind and had a good heart. We could make a deep relationship. I was worried about the members....
This brother was worried that the government would arrest other members or that they would scatter and lose faith. He said that he was so worried about the other members that he did not feel any pain.
This letter and dozens of other letters strengthen my own faith and determination to serve God and True Parents. Our members are not thinking about themselves, but about others, even in prison under torture. They try to follow the example our True Father set while he was in prison, thinking about the members who are free.
I am also amazed that although the Iranian members have not received much spiritual education, they try to follow True Father's example. Another brother who was in prison for several months wrote to me about his schedule there. All the prisoners and guards were surprised by him and thought him very unusual. He served everybody, even those who were not liked by other prisoners. People insulted him and ridiculed him because of his meekness and service. Though he is a strong man and has a black belt in Kung-Fu, he continued to respect them and love them and pray for them. Every morning he woke up at 4 a.m., took a cold shower, prayed, and did exercises until the other prisoners woke up; then he served breakfast. The guards were suspicious of him, especially of his taking a shower every day. So he had to make a religious excuse -- that for Islamic prayer a person should be clean. One older prisoner told him, "I never saw such a young man! I couldn't imagine ever meeting a person like you; it is such a shock for me to find you in a prison!"
Actually, arrests are not taking place very much now, not anymore. The members have learned to I've very careful not to arouse the authorities. They live with their families, their guests are their friends, and they practice their faith quietly.
God's Day 1983. Two mothers: on the left Mama Zahedi -- seven members of her family joined -- and to the right Mama Mamini, whose whole family joined.
When I think about the members, and their faith and sincerity to serve God's will, I connect them to the faith of the nation. It is a nation with religious zeal Islam is a religion of faith and submission. Shia is the religion of Iran and is the Islamic sect of suffering and martyrdom. The founder of Shia, Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, was endorsed verbally by Mohammed himself as his successor. The Shi'ites believe in Ali's immediate right to the caliphate after the death of Mohammed.
The Sunni sect, however, which predominates in most of the other Arab nations, believes that because Mohammed's last words were not recorded, his successor should be appointed by an assembly of elder disciples. Ultimately, 25 years after Mohammed's death, the people killed the third appointed caliphate and begged Ali to rule them. Then, six years later, Ali was struck down by a poisoned sword while praying in the mosque in the early morning. To the Shi'ite, Ali is regarded as the greatest saint in Islam. Also, the suffering of Zoroastrians in Iran (Persia in ancient times) under the second Sunni caliphate, who invaded their land, drove them to the side of Ali and Shia. In 1529 Iran's Shi'ite religion was made official and divided from other Islamic nations.
The martyrdom of Ali was followed by that of almost all of his descendants, who together with Ali are known as the 12 Imams. Shi'ites believe that the 12th Imam disappeared at the age of 75 and will come again in the Last Days as the savior or "Mahdi" (Guide) to establish God's kingdom of justice on earth.
Although many followers of Ali who were persecuted and killed died with a good heart, forgiving their enemies, some Shia writers and scholars distorted the story of Shia martyrs by putting their own resentment and hatred into the books and sayings of the Imams. From these perverted teachings came the prophesy that the "Twelfth Imam" or "Mahdi" will come in the Last Days and literally kill people with his sword until the blood comes up to the knees of his horse.
Now many religious leaders in Iran call those distorted prophesies of the Last Days incontestable truth, and use them to justify any action they do out of hatred and resentment. Even Khomeini can justify his bloody war with Iraq by claiming his actions to be consistent with those of the coming Mahdi. Now thousands of sincere young people are misled to sacrifice their lives for a false doctrine of Islam, and believe that by shedding their own blood and the blood of their "enemies" they will be rewarded by God.
I deeply regret that this faith and sincerity is not being used by the real "Mahdi" himself, based on the true teaching of Islam and the Principle.
Out of so many thousands of young people who go after the "small Jihad" (holy war for God) of shedding the blood of the "enemy" with hatred and resentment and being "martyred," our brothers and sisters in Iran are going after the "big Jihad," which according to Islam is to purify themselves, have a healthy spiritual life, love their torturers and persecutors, and be true Moslems because they have discovered the true teaching of Islam. They indeed are following "Mahdi's Revolution."